United Farm Workers Granted Injunction Against DOL Delaying Rule Implementation

Eastern District of California Judge Dale A. Drozd signed an order last Wednesday granting the United Farm Workers’ request for a preliminary injunction stopping the United States Department of Labor (DOL) from altering the methods it uses to report farm workers’ wages and fulfill its requirement to make the typical reports for the previous year. 

This order specifically requires the DOL to not implement its November 5 Final Rule and to continue to calculate Adverse Effect Wage Rates (AEWR) as required under the 2010 Rule.  The DOL Rule, which would replace previous surveys used to calculate the rates, was scheduled to go into effect on December 21. 

This court previously acted in favor of the plaintiffs in another case about the same issue against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which was filed before the present lawsuit. The United Farm Workers argued that the USDA should be required to continue to produce the Farm Labor Survey and Farm Labor Report which, under the previous laws, were used by the DOL to create the AEWR.  

After the lawsuit was filed against the USDA, the department argued that the legal action, and the court requiring it to complete the surveys, was unnecessary because the Department of Labor’s new process would take over the surveys which had been used. The plaintiffs, however, purported that the process implemented by the USDA and the DOL with the November 5 Rule would not provide the numbers needed at the beginning of the 2021 growing season. It asked the Northern District of California to require the USDA to complete its normal surveys until an adequate review of the new system happened and the new system was ready to be in effect. The plaintiffs said that transferring the rule to the DOL from the USDA did not replace the method as the DOL rule was entered two months after the USDA published its rule to end the reports. 

In early November, after the USDA claimed that the need for the injunction had “evaporated” because the DOL had published its rule to take over the responsibility, the plaintiffs argued that the Farm Labour Report and Survey are necessary to ensure farmworkers are being paid fairly and that not having a report from 2020 would negatively impact members of the plaintiffs’ organization. 

Both of the lawsuits are still ongoing, although both departments have been required to continue the previous surveys and process for determining AEWRs. In the plaintiffs’ lawsuit against the USDA, last Wednesday the plaintiffs were also granted their request to continue a scheduling conference until early February. 

The United Farm Workers are represented by Farmworker Justice and Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr and the USDA and the DOL are represented by the United States Department of Justice.